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FCC Chairman Wants It To Be Easier To Listen To Free FM Radio On Your Smartphone (recode.net) 209

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Recode: Your smartphone has an FM radio in it, only it's unlikely that you're able to use it. That's because in the U.S., less than half of phones actually have the FM tuner turned on. But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who just recently assumed the top position at the regulatory agency under President Trump, thinks that should change. In remarks made to the North American Broadcasters Association yesterday, Pai said that it's a public safety issue. Both the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Association and an FCC advisory panel on public safety have advocated for turning on the FM radio capabilities in smartphones, since radio is a reliable source of information when internet or cellphone networks go down in severe weather. Although Pai thinks smartphones should have the FM chip turned on, he doesn't think the government should mandate it: "As a believer in free markets and the rule of law, I cannot support a government mandate requiring activation of these chips. I don't believe the FCC has the power to issue a mandate like that, and more generally I believe it's best to sort this issue out in the marketplace."
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FCC Chairman Wants It To Be Easier To Listen To Free FM Radio On Your Smartphone

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  • FCC can't help ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @06:04PM (#53882251)
    My smartphone has an FM radio app in it (as have all my previous ones), but I am unlikely to use it.

    It requires the use of wired earphones because the wire acts as the FM radio antenna. The FCC cannot change that.

    • Or you could use one of these [amazon.co.uk].

      • Wouldn't that keep the phone from sending audio out the built-in speakers? Only sounds useful if you're also using bluetooth to send it to a receiver...that might also have FM built-in.

        • Wouldn't that keep the phone from sending audio out the built-in speakers? Only sounds useful if you're also using bluetooth to send it to a receiver...that might also have FM built-in.

          I noted in an earlier post that, at least, the NextRadio app can output to the phone speaker instead of the headphone, so that antenna should work okay like that, though the speaker output obviously isn't stereo.

        • by dryeo ( 100693 )

          My phones (Moto E) stock FM radio app also has a switch in the preferences whether audio uses the headphones or not.

    • Then the people with bluetooth only headphones will be the first to die in a natural disaster. Look, natural selection at work!
    • My smartphone has an FM radio app in it (as have all my previous ones), but I am unlikely to use it.

      It requires the use of wired earphones because the wire acts as the FM radio antenna.

      Not sure about all apps, but the NextRadio app can play through the speaker while using the headphone wires for the antenna. In addition, it doesn't have to be headphones. I use it to output the radio on my phone to my PC speakers through the PC audio-in jack while at work where streaming isn't allowed.

    • A lot of FM radio stations have streaming internet radio.

      I listen to one every day via TuneInRadio.

      Works both at home and in the car.

      • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

        But that requires either wifi or mobile data, which in the case of a natural disaster or severe weather may not be readily available. The argument for having the FM tuner activated has now gone full circle.

    • by twosat ( 1414337 )

      All of the cellphones that our family has are "feature" phones and all of them have an FM receiver. On my latest phone I can listen to the radio without using headphones, so they are not absolutely necessary.

      https://www.vodafone.co.nz/sho... [vodafone.co.nz]
      http://nz.mobiwire.co/ [mobiwire.co]
      http://nz.mobiwire.co/dakota [mobiwire.co]

    • The Apple iPod nano supports FM Radio
      http://www.apple.com/ipod-nano... [apple.com]
  • by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @06:12PM (#53882289)

    Hey, I like my AM stations better! Down with the FM bigots!

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @06:12PM (#53882291) Journal
    Carriers have little financial incentive to do so because they profit from streaming data, says Barry Rooke [wired.com] of the National Campus and Community Radio Association.
  • The way they write this makes it sound like nearly all phones have an FM chip/capability already built-in, which I believe is actually quite far from the truth. Its only a few specific models.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      The way they write this makes it sound like nearly all phones have an FM chip/capability already built-in, which I believe is actually quite far from the truth. Its only a few specific models.

      Well, the chips to do it tend to be everywhere - WiFi and Bluetooth chips tend to be triple duty with FM radio thrown in because it isn't hard to add.

      The real issue is whether or not it's actually hooked up - usually they aren't. So the phone may have the hardware for it, but not actually be wired up.

      The real question

      • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

        If the feature is already in the chipset then it seems stupid to not add a couple of tracks to the PCB so you can actually use it.
        I get what you are saying that most people stream, but FM works better for a couple of reasons. The obvious ones are that you're not using up your valuable data plan and can get FM out in the boonies where you can't even get cell, but also listening to FM apparently uses way less battery than streaming does.

      • So the phone may have the hardware for it, but not actually be wired up. The real question is why?

        Because the circuitry required to utilize the shield (ground) wire on the headset as an FM antenna increases the ground impedance and causes left-right and capture-playback crosstalk. The latter can be fixed by the phone's echo canceler, but the former cannot.

        That's why FM radio is mainly confined to lower-cost phones. Premium phone buyers tend to be more particular about the headset audio quality.

      • Whenever I turn flip through stations on FM, 83% of them are running commercials, and the other 17% are playing garbage. As posted earlier, AM stations are more useful, generally geared towards news and weather.

        Also, 92% of statistics are made-up.
    • FM capability is in the WiFi/BT combo chip, almost everywhere.
    • My Galaxy S2 had a FM radio in it with the proper app to use it, my Moto G2 also had it, my current Zenfone2 also has it. And they were all unlocked. You have to choose what you buy :)
  • The FM chip is a tiny part of it. Phones in general are just far too locked down and prevent people from controlling the way they work.

  • In remarks made to the North American Broadcasters Association yesterday, Pai said that it's a public safety issue... Although Pai thinks smartphones should have the FM chip turned on, he doesn't think the government should mandate it: "As a believer in free markets and the rule of law, I cannot support a government mandate requiring activation of these chips. I don't believe the FCC has the power to issue a mandate like that, and more generally I believe it's best to sort this issue out in the marketplace."

    It's a public safety issue, but it should be left to the marketplace, and if you can't afford an extra $10 per month for this "public safety" feature, then you deserve to die in an emergency?

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @06:31PM (#53882407)

    Let people download an app and make up their own minds about FM. This whole 'the marketplace has decided' bullshit is often just cover for 'We have our reasons. Go away and stop bothering us.'

    There are some subtle differences between broadcast FM and streaming content revenue models and middlemen. I wouldn't be surprised if the streaming proponents just want to steer the ad bucks their way. Follow the money.

    • There are apps for that but where I am (Canada) the software support in the OS to use the radio is missing. At least that's what the NextRadio app is telling me...

  • Wonder if this FM chip has the ability to tune to the NOAA weather frequencies? The GPS in the phone could be used to figure out the S.A.M.E. code and automagically tune to the correct freq and provide alerts when the cell towers are down???
    • by b0bby ( 201198 )

      I just tried on my phone, no luck. I think the weather frequencies are VHF.

      • Broadcast FM in the US is 88-108 MHz. NOAA is generally around 162 MHz. It's quite a stretch for an analog tuner, pretty much requiring more hardware for filters and so on; for most SDRs that can already tune FM broadcast, these frequency ranges aren't really a lot different. For a dedicated digital receiver, it may not even be remotely possible.

        So ultimately it depends on just how the phone is doing FM, and of course, if the software lets you do what you want to do.

    • Wonder if this FM chip has the ability to tune to the NOAA weather frequencies?

      Nope. They are just for FM. They're a common toss-in. For markets in the developing world where people still listen to the radio at times other than the commute, they make a lot of sense. I used the one in my Panamanian Nokia (that's where I bought it anyway) when I was down there, occasionally.

  • Ajit Pai sez... (Score:3, Informative)

    by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Thursday February 16, 2017 @07:18PM (#53882667)

    My hands are tied - honestly! I just tied them myself!

    He says he wants FM on all capable phones, and in the same breath says he doesn't "believe the FCC has the power to issue a mandate like that". Well, Ajit, you slimy fuck, I have news for you: your alleged belief doesn't mean shit, you do have the power, and any assertions you make to the contrary are simply inept and sophomoric bullshit politicking. Being a liar is bad enough - being incompetent at it is just diarrhea icing on the crapcake you're trying to get people to swallow.

    • by rossz ( 67331 )

      He can't require it any more than he can require a radio in every car sold. Yes, most cars have a radio, but it is not a legal requirement.

    • Except he's 100% correct that such an order would exceed the authority of the FCC. Congress could do it, but the FCC cannot. And you should be THANKFUL for that fact, otherwise ATSC/HDTV tuners would all implement the "broadcast flag" and DVRs would be all but illegal. How soon we forget.

    • He doesn't think he has the authority to do it. On the other hand, they could release guidelines and give them a fancy name (ie EnergyStar) with a list of criteria to qualify for slapping that on your advertising. Then there is market incentive to slap FCC certified SafePhone! or whatever on the box with the FM radio enabled.
  • On the one hand, TFS quotes Pai as saying enabling the FM Radios is a "public safety issue". On the other hand, he says that the government has no place in dictating carriers turn the radio on.

    Until the wireless carriers are going to provide an emergency-grade SLA in return for their oligopoly using public airwaves to make money, the government does have a mandate to make sure those carriers are acting in the public's, as well as their shareholders', interests.

    • On the one hand, TFS quotes Pai as saying enabling the FM Radios is a "public safety issue". On the other hand, he says that the government has no place in dictating carriers turn the radio on.

      Both are facts. They do not contradict each other.

      the government does have a mandate to make sure those carriers are acting in the public's, as well as their shareholders', interests.

      The government has no more authority to demand that cell phone companies provide you an FM radio than they do to require you to buy a cellphone that has one, or to buy a 72 hour kit, or to buy lots of other things. That's one reason why ACA was unconstitutional -- there is no authority in the constitution for the US government to force people to buy a commercial product -- and why it created a horrible precedent.

    • by rossz ( 67331 )

      Calling something a public safety issue doesn't not magically give the government authority. Forcing people to wear bubble-wrap suits would be a public safety issue, too. Do you really want to go there?

      • Calling something a public safety issue doesn't not magically give the government authority. Forcing people to wear bubble-wrap suits would be a public safety issue, too. Do you really want to go there?

        In this case, the government, on behalf, of the people, allocates a finite resource (bandwidth) to a small number of competitors (oligarchy). The government does indeed have a role in ensuring that these companies are acting in the public interest. Your analogy would apply more to something like seatbelts.

  • but if I don't ever do anything to get one except tell people I should have one, I won't ever have one.

    Pai will have about the same luck with his desire for FM radio on phones.

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